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English Speaking Protestantism

African Methodist Episcopal Church

Doctrines See Methodism.

History A short time after the formation of the Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States in 1784 trouble occurred between the black and white members of St George's Church, Philadelphia (also see United Methodist Church). Blacks were segregated to a gallery and were interrupted by whites when they tried to pray. In response in 1787 black members left the church. Lead by a former slave and lay preacher, Richard Allen, they decided to establish a separate congregation and in 1793 founded the Bethel Church for Negro Methodists. Allen was appointed a deacon in 1799, but faced a long struggle to be allowed control of the Bethel church property in the face of a hostile white hierarchy. The struggle was not successful till a legal victory in 1816. Meanwhile in Baltimore and other areas similar struggles had lead to the formation of local black Methodist societies. In 1816 a national meeting was called and it was decided to establish a fully separate African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) of which Allen was ordained the first Bishop. Allen was amongst the first black leaders on the national stage and helped organise the first national black political movement.
The church experienced a steady growth in the North and West and a rapid expansion into the South after the Civil War, when most blacks were free to join a non-white church for the first time. The effective discipline and well-expounded doctrines of the Methodist message meant it could win popular support amongst blacks, overshadowed only by the Baptists (see National Baptist Convention). Services were also more enthusiastic and participatory than in white Methodist churches. The AME quickly developed a strong interest in missionary activities sending its first missionary to Haiti in 1827. It set up the AME Book Concern which was the first publishing house owned and operated entirely by blacks. It also established in 1841 what is now the oldest established black newspaper, The Christian Recorder, and a wide range of educational activities. Today it is active in pursuing close co-operation with other churches, especially Methodist ones. Extensive missionary activity continues focusing on African areas or areas settled by Africans, such as the West Indies. There is also a strong tradition of social activism which attempts to address local community problems, particularly in urban congregations.

Symbols See Methodists.

Adherents In the USA, 3,500,000 in 1995 (World Almanac, 1995, 729).

Headquarters/Main Centre 1134 11th St. NW, Washington DC 20001, USA